Book Review: A Fly Has a Hundred Eyes by Aileen Baron—and a Giveaway

A Fly Has a Hundred EyesA Fly Has a Hundred Eyes
A Lily Sampson Mystery
Aileen Baron
Aileen Baron, September 2013
ISBN 978-0-578-12887-0
Ebook

From the author—

In the summer of 1938, Jerusalem is in chaos and the atmosphere teems with intrigue. Terrorists roam the countryside. The British are losing control of Palestine as Europe nervously teeters on the brink of World War II.

Against this backdrop of international tensions, Lily Sampson, an American graduate student, is involved in a dig—an important excavation directed by the eminent British archaeologist, Geoffrey Eastbourne, who is murdered on his way to the opening of the Rockefeller Museum. Artifacts from the dig are also missing, one of which is a beautiful blue glass amphoriskos (a vial about three and a half inches long) which Lily herself had excavated. Upset by this loss, she searches for the vial—enlisting the help of the military attaché of the American consulate.

But when she contacts the British police, they seem evasive and offputting—unable or unwilling either to find the murderer or to look into the theft of the amphoriskos. Lily realizes that she will get no help from them and sets out on her own to find the vial. When she finds the victim’s journal in her tent, she assumes he had left it for her because he feared for his life.

Lily’s adventurous search for information about the murder and the theft of the amphoriskos lead into a labyrinth of danger and intrigue.

In today’s uneasy world, we’ve become so edgy about the threat of terrorism that we sometimes forget this is not a new thing. Terrorism has been going on as long as humans have been around and no place in the world is as subject to it as the Middle East. Prior to World War II, the trouble between Arabs, Jews and the British grew exponentially, even before the Partition, and the encroaching war helped feed the beast.

It is this environment that is the climate for A Fly Has a Hundred Eyes in which we meet Lily Sampson, a young American archaeologist working on a dig in 1938 Jerusalem. It’s not easy for a woman to work in this profession but Lily has found a place with Geoffrey Eastbourne, the well-known and not always liked head of the excavation. His murder, although shocking, doesn’t seem to attract much attention from the British police but others begin to show much interest in Lily. Some of this interest seems to be concern for her well-being but there are also hints of dark forces, of pressure to spy for the government—or is it for some other element?

Lily is in possession of documents that seem to imply that Eastbourne was involved in much more than an archaeological dig and the behavior and sly warnings of some of the locals, Avi and Jamal in particular, lead her to seek answers on her own. She wants to know what happened to her mentor but a missing artifact also means a great deal to her. Her efforts to get to the bottom of things may  endanger her far more than she expects, especially with the threat of Nazi involvement, but she is also in danger from the ever-increasing bombings and other terrorist acts stemming from the strife among the local populace.

If you think this may be sounding a little familiar, it’s possible you’ve read it before as this is a re-issue of a 2002 novel. Ms. Baron’s story is just as relevant today as it was then and her prose is set apart by her flowing descriptions of the land and its people as well as the time. We would do well to pay attention to what was happening in Jerusalem in 1938 because it surely has bearing on today’s events.

A Fly has a Hundred Eyes won first place in the historical mystery novel category at both the Pikes Peak and Southwest Writers Conferences in 2000 before it was published and those awards were well-deserved. I think I’ll go track down the next Lily Sampson mystery.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2014.

An Excerpt

Later, Lily would remember the early morning quiet, the shuttered shops in the narrow lanes of the Old City. She would remember that few people were in the streets — bearded Hassidim in fur-trimmed hats and prayer shawls over long black cloaks returning from morning prayer at the Wailing Wall; an occasional shopkeeper sweeping worn cobbles still damp with dew.

She would remember the empty bazaar, remember that the peddler who usually sold round Greek bread from his cart near Jaffa Gate was gone.

She would remember the crowd of young Arabs, their heads covered with checkered black and white kefiyas, waiting in the shade of the Grand New Hotel, leaning against the façade, sitting on window ledges near the entrance; remember them crowded under Jaffa Gate in a space barely wide enough to drive through with a cart, standing beneath the medieval arches and crenellated ramparts, faces glum, arms crossed against their chests, rifles slung across their backs, revolvers jammed into their belts. One wore a Bedouin knife, its tin scabbard encrusted with bright bits of broken glass. Only their eyes moved as they watched her pass. Lily remembered holding her breath, pushing her way through, feeling their body heat, snaking this way and that to avoid touching the damp sweat on their clothing. No one stepped out of her way.

She would remember the bright Jerusalem air, fresh with the smell of pines and coffee and the faint tang of sheep from the fields near the city wall; the empty fruit market, usually crowded with loaded camels and donkey carts and turbaned fellahin unloading produce, deserted and silent. Vendor’s stalls, looking like boarded shops on a forlorn winter boardwalk, shut; cabs and carriages gone from the taxi stand.

She would remember the pool at the YMCA, warm as tea and green with algae, and the ladies gliding slowly through the water, wearing shower caps and corsets under their bathing suits, scooping water onto their ample bosoms, gathering to gossip at the shallow end. She would remember swimming around them with steady strokes, her legs kicking rhythmically, and the terrible tempered Mrs. Klein, blowing like a whale, ordering Lily to stop splashing. A tiny lady holding onto the side of the pool and dunking herself up and down like a tea bag nodded in agreement; Elsa Stern, the little round pediatrician with curly gray hair, gave Lily a conspiratorial wink and kept swimming laps.

She would remember it all. Everything about that day would haunt her.

About the Author

Aileen BaronAileen G. Baron has spent her life unearthing the treasures and secrets left behind by previous civilizations. Her pursuit of the ancient has taken her to distant countries—Israel, Turkey, Jordan, Greece, Britain, China and the Yucatan—and to some surprising California destinations, like Newport Beach, California and the Mojave Desert.

She taught for twenty years in the Department of Anthropology at California State University, Fullerton, and has conducted many years of fieldwork in the Middle East, including a year at the American School of Oriental Research in Jerusalem as an NEH scholar and director of the overseas campus of California State Universities at the Hebrew University. She holds degrees from several universities, including the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of California, Riverside.

The first book in the Lily Sampson series, A FLY HAS A HUNDRED EYES, about the murder of a British archaeologist in 1938 in British mandated Palestine, won first place in the mystery category at both the Pikes Peak Writers conference and the SouthWest Writers Conference. THE TORCH OF TANGIER, the second novel in the Lily Sampson series, takes place in Morocco during WW II, when Lily is recruited into the OSS to work on the preparations for the Allied invasion of North Africa, Operation Torch. In THE SCORPION’S BITE, Lily is doing an archaeological survey of Trans-Jordan for the OSS.

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A Fly has a Hundred Eyes by Aileen Baron,
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Book Review: The Vanishing Point by Val McDermid

The Vanishing Point
Val McDermid
Atlantic Monthly Press, October 2012
ISBN 9780802120526
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Young Jimmy Higgins is snatched from an airport security checkpoint while his guardian watches helplessly from the glass inspection box. But this is no ordinary abduction, as Jimmy is no ordinary child. His mother was Scarlett, a reality TV star who, dying of cancer and alienated from her unreliable family, entrusted the boy to the person she believed best able to give him a happy, stable life: her ghost writer, Stephanie Harker. Assisting the FBI in their attempt to recover the missing boy, Stephanie reaches into the past to uncover the motive for the abduction. Has Jimmy been taken by his own relatives? Is Stephanie’s obsessive ex-lover trying to teach her a lesson? Has one of Scarlett’s stalkers come back to haunt them all?

There are certain authors I always can count on to provide me with an excellent read, a brief escape into a world I can laugh at or be mesmerized by, a world that shakes me to the core for one reason or another. I understand, though, that many of those authors whose work I admire so much might stumble now and then. The Vanishing Point is Val McDermid‘s stumble.

Ms. McDermid is a wonderful writer—I have enjoyed everything of hers I’ve read until this one—and even this has some redeeming aspects. It’s not a BAD book; it just doesn’t rise to the level of her usual top notch work and that becomes evident early in the story.

Most of the disappointment I had was in regard to the credibility of the story. For a woman who shows a lot of inner strength and is clearly able to take care of herself, Stephanie seems too insecure, beyond what could be attributed to her past relationship. More importantly, what happens in the airport just isn’t believable enough. Stephanie knows she will have to be screened or patted down because of the metal in her leg so why wouldn’t she make sure the child stayed close by? As much as we, the public, dislike the behavior of a few TSA employees (and as much as we may hate the whole system), I have a hard time believing they would so totally dismiss her screams for help when she sees what’s happening. And, when it becomes obvious that time is critical, no FBI agent would allow Stephanie to go on and on with the backstory, nor would Stephanie want to blather on while little is being done to find Jimmy. The last straw for me was when I realized that she was inexplicably hesitant to tell the FBI agent about the person who is very likely to be behind the kidnapping.

Unfortunately, with such plot holes early on, I found it hard to engage with the story or even take it as seriously as such a topic deserves but I did finish the book, hoping Ms. McDermid would pull it together. To a certain extent, she did, but the twist ending was too little too late.  I have no doubt the author will get back on track with the next book and I’m certainly going to look forward to it but, sadly, this one is not a keeper for me.  Our reactions to books are very personal, though, and many of her devoted readers will like it.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2012.

Book Reviews: Gloria Feit X 3

Trick of the Dark
Val McDermid
Little, Brown, 2010
ISBN 978-1-4087-0201-7
Hardcover

[This book is presently available only in/through the UK and Canada, not available in the US at this time]

As the book opens, Dr. Charlotte [“Charlie”] Flint finds her professional life as a forensic psychiatrist in tatters, her reputation destroyed, and awaiting a hearing by the General Medical Council to will decide whether or not she can be reinstated as an expert in her field.

Magdalene [“Magda”] Newsam, a pediatric oncologist, is a 28-year-old woman whose husband was killed on their wedding night, attending the trial of her husband’s partners for his murder.  One of the two hubs of this book is Magda’s mother, Corinna Newsam, who was Charlie’s tutor while an undergraduate at St. Scholastika’s College, Oxford University, which is the other point around which all else revolves. Each of the characters’ ties to Corinna and Oxford have shaped their lives to this point.  As is the case also with Jay Stewart, wildly successful businesswoman in the throes of writing her second memoir following her first bestseller, the point of view throughout the book variously that of the three younger women.

Corinna asks Charlie to investigate whether, as she suspects, Jay Stewart had something to do with her son-in-law’s death, mostly due to the fact that Jay is now romantically involved with Magda.  Seeking redemption, Charlie agrees. As the solution drew near, the feeling that I knew what lay ahead didn’t diminish the suspense or the intricacy of the plot.  And, of course, I was completely wrong in my expectations.

Few of the characters in the book are male; few of the romantic relationships/entanglements are heterosexual, a fact noteworthy only in the prejudices thereby aroused in others which are essential to the plot.  The novel, though somewhat lengthy, is an absorbing and worthy addition to Ms. McDermid’s past novels, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2010.

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Thirteen Hours
Deon Meyer
Translated by K. L. Seegers
Atlantic Monthly Press, 2010
ISBN 978-0-8021-1958-2
Hardcover

Post-Apartheid South Africa has undergone many traumatic changes.  But for homicide detective Benny Griessel, nothing much changes except for the murder victims, the politics, unsettled race relations and his own personal problems.  Benny is saddled with “mentoring” newly promoted black or “colored” detectives.  Of course, he is the only experienced white.

The plot involves two murders and a kidnapping, each a potential PR disaster for the SA government.  It is up to Benny and his untested troops to save a captive American girl who witnessed the murder of her fellow tourist. Meanwhile, a well-known music executive is found shot in his home with his pistol lying at his feet, his alcoholic wife
asleep in a chair.

Deon Meyer has written six novels and Thirteen Hours is probably the best (not taking anything away from its predecessors).  It is taut, moving and deeply memorable, and is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2010.

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The Immortals
J.T. Ellison
MIRA Books, 2010
ISBN 978-0-7783-2763-9
Mass Market Paperback

This newest entry in the Taylor Jackson series could be termed a procedural with a twist.  It includes elements of the occult: Goth, Wicca, Satanic and Pagan rituals and beliefs.  In the spirit of full disclosure, I must admit that in general, “woo woo” is not my favorite genre.  This novel, however, does not ask readers to believe in the occult, merely to accept that there are those that do.  And on that basis, I had no problem with it at all.  More to the point, I found it equally as enjoyable as the earlier books in this series, of which this is the fifth.

All events transpire over a four-day period, beginning, significantly, on October 31st [usually known as Halloween or, if one follows the occult, Samhain, which is the Wiccan New Year.]  As the book opens, Taylor Jackson has just been reinstated as a Lieutenant in the Nashville Metro Police Department, heading up the Murder Squad.  The squad assembles hurriedly when there are reports of multiple victims and multiple crime scenes, at least seven dead in five different houses, all victims between fourteen and eighteen years of age.  The persons responsible seem to be the eponymous, if self-styled, Immortals.  Is this, as it starts to appear, a case of vampires and witches running amok in Nashville, Tennessee?

Paralleling this investigation in the novel is one that revolves around events which began in June of 2004 with the discovery of the fifth victim of what the media dubs The Clockwork Killer, which involved Dr. John Baldwin, Supervisory Special Agent and Taylor’s fiancé, and which he must revisit when a hearing into the matter is being held at FBI headquarters at Quantico.  In each case, the present and the past, there is an inherent threat of further loss of young lives, both aspects of the book equally suspenseful.  [I couldn’t help but note that Dr. Baldwin displays good taste in writers, reading a copy of a John Connolly book in one scene.]  The occult aspect becomes just another part of the background and not a deterrent to this reader’s enjoyment of the book.  As is pointed out to Taylor, “Everyone needs something to believe in.  Pagans just look to things that are a bit more tangible than what you and I are aware of.”  The Immortals, as were the other books in the series, is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2010.

Book Review: Fever of the Bone by Val McDermid

Fever of the Bone
Val McDermid
Harper, 2010
ISBN 978-006198648-2
Trade Paperback

Val McDermid‘s latest Carol Jordan/Tony Hill novel more than lives up to the expectations raised by the previous books in the series.  DCI Carol Jordan now heads up her own elite Major Incident Team, handling current as well as cold cases, but the status quo is threatened by the new chief constable, as is the team’s consulting arrangement with Dr.
Tony Hill, clinical psychologist and criminal profiler extraordinaire. The tale covers a series of horrendous murder/mutilations of young, seemingly unconnected victims, and an old case into which new life [so to speak] has been infused.  Newly available lines of investigation, of course, in both forensics and information technology, play a large role.  In the current case, not the least of the questions is, what possible motivation could there be in the killing and mutilation of 14-year-olds?

There are few straight lines in the narrative, with scenes alternating from one aspect of the story line to another, but somehow that works to only increase the suspense quotient.  The portraits of Carol’s team members are well-drawn, with each having a distinct personality and set of talents.  I found it fascinating to get inside the head of Tony Hill, a man who is troubled by his own psyche, but whose expertise lies in his ability to get inside of the head of the person whose identity he is hunting.  The intimate [albeit chaste] relationship of Jordan and Hill is, as always, a thing of beauty and wholly satisfying to the reader [if not always to the participants].  The novel is tightly plotted, the writing containing some small gems, e.g., “offer[ing] up information . . . in the spirit of a dog dropping a soggy newspaper at the feet of its human,” and, speaking of an outgoing phone message, “his phone greeting sounded astonished and wary, as if he was taken aback by a ringing piece of plastic that spoke when you lifted it.”

Ms. McDermid manages to find just the right turn of phrase to perfectly capture a mood, or an emotion, often bringing a smile or a nod in the process. Parenthetically, I found intriguing that the number 14 runs through the book in several contexts.  Refreshingly, the cases are ultimately solved through no sudden [read ‘unrealistic’] flashes of brilliance, but by painstaking police work, “old-fashioned coppering,” in the author’s words.  The book is highly recommended.  [The title, in case you were wondering, derives from a T.S. Elliot poem.]

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2010.

Ted Feit Triple Threat Book Reviews

Crossfire
Dick Francis and Felix Francis
Putnam, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-399-15681-6
Hardcover

This is the fourth work completed by Dick Francis and his son, and it certainly lives up the standards the late author set in a long and distinguished career until his death last February.  As did the more than 40 novels Dick Francis wrote, it takes as its milieu the Britishhorse-racing scene.

Captain Tom Forsyth, who left his mother’s home (and horse-training stables) at the age of 17 to join the army, returns after losing his foot to an IED in Afghanistan, only to find that his mother is in some kind of trouble.  She is being blackmailed to the tune of 2,000 pounds a week and is also being forced to make sure that her horses lose important races.  It falls to Tom to sort out the culprits, solve his mother’s business problems, and find his way into the future despite his physical condition.

Crossfire is a tale with the trademark Francis touch, carefully constructed, poignantly written and sensitive, especially with regard to observations of the trials and difficulties of being a soldier (demonstrated throughout by references to Tom’s past posts as well as the skills he learned as applied to his present endeavors), and it is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2010.

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The Queen of Patpong
Timothy Hallinan
William Morrow, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-06-167226-2
Hardcover

While its predecessors in this delightful series set in Thailand focused on all the trouble in which Poke Rafferty could find himself, this novel is exclusively the property of his wife, Rose.  As readers of the previous entries have learned, Rose was a bar girl (i.e., dancer and prostitute) before meeting and marrying Poke. And as most know, that is a dangerous profession.

While the domestic side of the novel includes Poke’s participation in a school production of “The Tempest,” in which his adopted daughter, Miaow, stars as Ariel, the dangerous aspect of the plot arises from Rose’s past.  This gives the author the opportunity to accomplish two objectives.  First, of course, is to show the miserable lives and inherent dangers of the life of a bar girl.  Second is to force Poke to really face Rose’s past and come to grips with its meanness and horrors.

The recounting of Rose’s life is poignant and sensitive, and the various characters in her life are skillfully drawn. Descriptions of Patpong Street and Bangkok and the strip joints and bars are graphic. The suspense builds and builds.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, September 2010.

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Dog Tags
David Rosenfelt
Grand Central Publishing, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-446-55152-6
Hardcover

This legal-thriller-cum-amusing-background series, featuring the talented but not so enthusiastic defense attorney Andy Carpenter, once again demonstrates his love of canines.  The plot starts off with Andy representing a German shepherd, Milo, being held in the dog pound under police guard, with Andy seeking a bail hearing.  It seems that the dog is owned by Billy Zimmerman, an ex-cop who lost his leg while serving in Iraq and is now accused of murder.  In fact, Andy gets to represent both master and dog before it’s all over.

As the story develops, in order to survive after his return from Iraq and not being able to get his old job back as a Paterson, NJ, detective, Billy had trained the dog to jump up and snatch valuables which he could then convert to raise funds to survive.  One night, Billy and Milo observe someone handing over an envelope to another person.  Milo snatches it and runs away, later burying it.  Meanwhile, the man who handed over the envelope is shot and killed.  Billy, who had served under the man in Iraq, is accused of his murder.

Andy is begged initially to free the dog from the pound, and as that case develops he takes on Billy’s as well. Complication upon complication then compound the plot, with all of the usual characters in the series, plus the dog, playing vital roles in what has become the trademark characteristic of an Andy Carpenter trial: a hopeless
case to somehow salvage, and often a national catastrophe to prevent. The novels are always written with humor and a light touch, and this entry is no exception.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2010.

Book Review: Bad Boy by Peter Robinson

Bad Boy
Peter Robinson
William Morrow, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-0613-6295-8
Hardcover

Murphy’s Law seems to apply to the premise behind this novel.  After a well-earned vacation touring the U.S. Southwest and the wonders of LA and San Francisco, DI Banks finds, upon his return to Eastvale, that an old friend has died after police tasered him, Banks’ daughter is missing, and everything is in an uncontrolled mess.

It starts when a former neighbor of Banks discovers a gun which had been hidden by her daughter in her bedroom when visiting her parents. The mother visits the police station hoping to discuss the situation with Banks who, unfortunately, is still away.  When the police raid the house, the woman’s husband dies of a heart attack after the
aforementioned taser incident; Banks’ daughter, Tracy, infatuated with man who owned the gun (the “bad boy” of the title) warns him of the police inquiries and hides him in her father’s cottage.  And from that point on, as Banks returns, everything goes downhill.

The chase begins with Tracy’s status changing from willing lover to hostage, and Banks and the rest of the police force struggling with the lack of clues as to where the fugitive and his captive are.  As usual, Banks doesn’t always play by the rules.  But then, neither does the bad boy.  Another well-written and off-beat story in the series, and highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2010.

Book Review: From the Dead by Mark Billingham

From the Dead
Mark Billingham
Little, Brown, August 2010
ISBN: 978-1-4087-0075-4
Hardcover

[This book is presently available only in/through the UK and Canada, not available in the US at this time]

D.I Tom Thorne is one among the outstanding protagonists in the crime genre who doggedly solve murders and other mysteries while questioning their own talents, motivations and personalities, often to their own detriment.  He, like many of the others, criticizes himself, albeit unnecessarily, because he, and they, do achieve success.

We see Thorne agonizing over the court’s findings when it frees an accused murderer he and everyone else is convinced is guilty. Key to the innocent verdict is the fact that there is no body.  But there is no time to worry about the case before another arises to occupy Thorne: a 10-year-old case that just won’t disappear.

Donna Langford has just been released from prison after serving a sentence for having hired a hit man to murder her husband.  Then she begins to receive photos of a man she says is that same husband.  When she learns that her daughter has vanished, she can only conclude her husband is responsible, and she employs a private detective, Anna Carpenter, to investigate.  Anna approaches Thorne and together they begin to work the case, setting off all kinds of repercussions which may be engineered by a man who is supposed to be dead but is perhaps intent on preserving a reconstructed life.

Once again, the author has written a deep police procedural with significant insights into the characters.  While the investigation is hampered by the craftiness of the “dead” husband and roadblocks he throws in Thorne’s way, he plods on doggedly, just in character.  Written with smoothness and urbanity, the plot moves forward in unexpected ways.  Recommended.

Reviewed by Theodore Feit